Essay: Chronic Illness

Dec 28, 2018

Sometimes when our family was on a trip, my father would start driving wildly and too fast.  We begged him to stop but he was ornery, rebellious.  My brother and I were terrified, my mother furious.  But Dad wasn’t drunk; he was having an insulin reaction—and needed something to eat. 

My father had Type 1 Diabetes, a chronic illness that we all lived with.  I was used to seeing a pan of boiling water on the stove where he sterilized his syringes every day.  Seeing him rest his thigh on the edge of the bathroom sink to give himself a shot.

I didn’t know anything about the long-term complications of the disease.  He and my mother kept those concerns to themselves.  My brother and I just watched for insulin reactions and tried to get Dad to drink some orange juice.  One night Mom woke to find him unconscious and an ambulance came. 

Thinking back, I remember the undercurrent of worry in our family and our sense of shared responsibility.  I also remember that my father never complained, never felt sorry for himself.

“Diabetes is no picnic,” he would say, “but you can live with it if you take care of yourself.”  He took care of himself—and lived seventy-six years.  No complaints.